United Methodist Women Protest Family Deportations on Capitol Hill

United Methodist Women Protest Family Deportations on Capitol Hill
Deaconess Cindy Johnson (front row, right) is dedicated to immigration reform and migrant rights.

United Methodist Women members joined more than 100 immigration advocates for a day of advocacy that included civil disobedience in Washington, D.C., July 31. Among those arrested in the civil disobedience action were Deaconess Cindy Andrade Johnston of Brownsville, Texas; Rita Carter, social action coordinator for Iowa Conference United Methodist Women; and Janice Gintzler, social action coordinator for Illinois Conference United Methodist Women.

The “Prophetic Witness at the White House” started early with morning civil disobedience training that packed the meeting room at the United Methodist Building, just steps from the Capitol. By the end of the day, 112 had been arrested outside the White House in a peaceful action protesting President Obama’s deportation policies and calling for just immigration reform.

“The morning training was reassuring,” Ms. Johnson said of the session that included prayer, legal guidance, logistics and step-by-step description of the planned arrests. “The action went like clockwork. Once at the police station, it took 45 minutes.”

Ms. Johnson, a second generation American from Mexico, participated in the action after years of witnessing the impact of U.S. immigration policies in her work.

“I was a teacher for 30 years, from elementary to high school,” Ms. Johnson said. “A lot of my students were undocumented or part of their family was undocumented. I witnessed the hardships that families endured from their status.”   

Ms. Johnson said the U.S. government is “playing politics” rather than enacting just immigration policies, particularly in the current crisis in which many are seeking asylum as refugees.  “Our government says our borders are not secure. Not true. The people coming across are turning themselves in. They’re fleeing violence in their country,” she said.

Ms. Johnson works with immigrants and asylum seekers with non profits along the border. The number of teachers, accountants and other professionals among the refugees she has encountered in her work has surprised her.

“The coyotes [highly paid border crossing guides] target people who can pay,” she said. “The women I spoke with have had violence directed toward them or their families, including gangs extorting protection money. There is no justice system to go to in their countries.”

The women Ms. Johnson met in the course of her work came from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Ms. Carter came to the event with her retired husband, the Rev. Brian Carter, in response to a call from the General Board of Church and Society for the “No More Deportations” campaign to put pressure on the President Obama to stop the deportations.

“We had a caravan of three cars, 10 adults and two children, driving from Des Moines—24 hours straight to Washington,” Ms. Carter said. “I believe the time is now to speak up for immigrants. Lots of people have spoken out, but there is so little action.”

Both Ms. Johnson and Ms. Carter say United Methodist Women longtime advocacy and education around just immigration reform helped prepare them for the day’s action. “It focused me on the issue and helped me understand how important it is to keep going,” Ms. Carter said.

Seventeen-year-old Kaija Carter (no relation) of Iowa also participated in the protest. “I’m tired of seeing friends and family being torn apart although,” she said. “I come to stand together with these people of faith and push for the acceptance of all people.”

For Ms. Gintzler, participating in the Capitol Hill action meant a 24-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C., to witness to her United Methodist faith. This was not her first act of civil disobedience—Ms. Gintzler was arrested in Chicago while protesting the Keystone Pipeline last year—but getting arrested nonetheless stretched her comfort zone. While protesting in the day’s hot sun and waiting through three amplified warnings from the police before they actually arrested, “I was thinking about Jesus on the cross,” Ms. Gintzler said.

While waiting to be arrested, Ms. Gintzler met a young woman DREAMer —a temporary legal status afforded minors in school based on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. More than two-dozen of those arrested were undocumented. “This takes extreme bravery for someone undocumented and those temporarily documented to participate in civil disobedience and get arrested,” Ms. Gintzler said.

Despite Ms. Johnson’s years of working with immigrants—and more recently asylum seekers—the ecumenical day of witness revved up her commitment to work for immigration justice.

“The civil disobedience action reinforced my resolve, particularly alongside all these people and faith leaders acting in the same way,” Ms. Johnson said. “I’m going back to the work I do with energy and renewed commitment.”   

United Methodists traveled to the ecumenical action from Mississippi, Iowa, California, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Virginia, Texas, Hawaii, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Tequila Minsky is a freelance photojournalist based in New York, New York.

Posted or updated: 8/1/2014 11:00:00 PM

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United Methodist Women member Janice Gintzler and friends in Lafayette Park across from the White House.Left to Right: Rev. Deborah Tinsley Taylor, Rev. Alka Lyall, and United Methodist Women member Janice Gintzler in Lafayette Park across from the White House.

United Methodist Women member Janice Gintzler is the Northern Illinois Social Action Coordinator. This was her second arrest; she was among fewer people during her arrest at the State Department offices in Illinois. "I sent out 100 emails trying to have others join me," she says, "but, no one responded." She met others from her annual conference for this demonstation in Washington DC. Janice Gintzler took a 24-hour Greyhound bus ride to participate in the civil disobedience White House action. "I know who my brothers and sisters are and we're called to care for our neighbors," she says. "I am my sister's keeper."

Links and Background:

Humanitarian Relief for Child Immigrants

#not1more: This action follows up a previous interfaith protest in February 2014: Thirty two faith leaders - including United Methodist Women members and staff - were arrested during a pray-in.  

#Pray4Relief: Prayer + Civil Disobedience for Immigration Reform on

United Methodists, Faith Leaders Arrested on

Over 100 Faith Leaders, Immigrant Activists Arrested At White House For Protesting Deportations on